‘A justice that challenges anthropocentrism’: Harlan Weaver speaks on antagonization of the pitbull

Harlan Weaver challenged viewers to change their perceptions of pit bulls during his Zoom talk. (Photo courtesy of Harlan Weaver)

Harlan Weaver challenged viewers to change their perceptions of pit bulls during his Zoom talk. (Photo courtesy of Harlan Weaver)

“In the catalogue they go for men

As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, all by the name of dogs…

That writes them alike—and so of men—” 

Harlan Weaver, professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies at Kansas State University, used this Shakespearean quote adapted from Edward Long to explain the antagonization of “America’s Most Wanted” dog: the pit bull. 

At a talk held over Zoom this past Thursday, Weaver offered insight on this idea of pit bulls, among other dogs, from his new book, “Bad Dog.”

Weaver has been published widely in venues such as GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies and American Quarterly with his work surrounding multi-species ethnography, queer kinship and critical race studies.

“Bad Dog” examines the intersection between animal politics and social facets such as gender, sexuality and race, a term he marketed as “interspecies intersectionality.” The main focus of Weaver’s study is on racialization, using this interspecies intersectionality to “identify troubling dynamics and inheritances…but also to disrupt what is a very common logic in animal advocacy, in which racism is simultaneously engaged and erased through appropriative and substitutive moves.”

Weaver brought up the present stigma of communities of color as a threat to dogs, with racial biases reflected in care preferences. This idea is rooted in the view that “tacit heteronormative whiteness” is a “good” force for stereotypically “bad” dogs. He said that society is “presenting injustices faced by pit bulls as like racism by appropriating the rhetoric and often the effects or emotions associated with race related social justice issues.” 

Weaver then discussed his thoughts to combat this issue. His main solution was to change the dialogue.

“The best way to disrupt connectivities is to engage and produce different kinds of thinking and understanding that challenge this ordering of knowledge politics,” he said. 

To communicate the connections between the exclusion of minority communities as proper caretakers, Weaver established that “humans and dogs experience marginalization and structural harms together. This is not a zero sum thing.”

He said that the reasons for putting “bad dogs” in shelters stem from a lack of affordable housing, pervasive racism and misogyny, a struggle to sustain a living wage and myriad other injustices. 

Efforts to prevent animals from being placed in shelters, he mentioned, take many forms. Training interventions, free and low cost veterinary care and work to make animal shelters a place for canine education being among the many. 

What Weaver said he believed was crucial, however, is the least discussed: the abolition of shelter policing.

“We need to take the police out of this role, and instantiate changes beneficial to marginalized humans and animals together,” Weaver said.

Donna Haraway, Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department and the Feminist Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, gave her commentary on Weaver’s work, applauding his emphasis on the human need to understand a world that is not just about oneself. 

As the lecture came to a close, Weaver left his final remarks on what this kind of justice looks like: “A justice that challenges anthropocentrism, a justice that disrupts the pitting of rational man against racial animal otherness, a justice I term, borrowing from conversation with a range of folks, a multi-species justice.”